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Charles E. Burchfield (1893-1967), Sunburst, 1929-31; oil on canvas, 35 1/2 x 47 1/2 inches; Burchfield Penney Art Center, Gift of Charles Rand Penney, 1994

Charles E. Burchfield (1893-1967), Sunburst, 1929-31; oil on canvas, 35 1/2 x 47 1/2 inches; Burchfield Penney Art Center, Gift of Charles Rand Penney, 1994

Lecture / Discussion  |  Lake Effect: How it Defines Buffalo’s Weather and Climate

Sunday, January 29, 2012, 2–3 pm

Peter and Elizabeth C. Tower Auditorium  

This winter the Burchfield Penney Art Center presents Weather Event, an exhibition focused on Charles E. Burchfield’s depictions of the weather and climate south of Lake Erie. Curated by Tullis Johnson and climatologist and Buffalo State College professor Stephen Vermette, Ph.D., the exhibition is on view through February 26, 2012.

Dr. Vermette will moderate Lake Effect: How it Defines Buffalo’s Weather and Climate, a panel with special guests Don Paul from WIVB-TV 4, Aaron Mentkowski from WKBW News 7 and David Zaff from the National Weather Service. The program begins with Dr. Vermette’s premise that the geographic position of Buffalo and other locations south of Lake Erie share a unique climate experience that Burchfield captured for over 50 years in his artwork. The panel discusses the realities and myths of Buffalo weather. Additional aspects of the conversation may include the potential impact on the region of climate change.

Reservations are recommended for school groups
by calling 716-878-3156 or emailing Mary Kozub.


Download The PDF of All 15 Questions and Answers  

1. What are the dynamics of waterspouts in winter?

Over our lakes, waterspouts are most often seen in the late summer and fall, when air (cold) and lake temperatures (warm) are at their greatest difference. Fair-weather water spouts (differentiated from the tornadic variety) usually occur under developing cumulus clouds during light wind conditions. They build from the surface of the water to the cloud base, as rising air currents of moist air. The spin is attributed to a changing shear (wind direction) with height. Given these conditions, waterspouts in winter would be less common and even rarer when the lake is frozen. Having said this, recent observations by the folks at SUNY Oswego found numerous cases of tiny velocity couplets embedded within lake effect bands – like mini-mini supercells. Perhaps winter waterspouts are more common than originally believed. They are snow- and steam fog-wrapped rather than water-wrapped - the term ‘snowspout’ may be an appropriate term here. Contrary to popular belief, waterspouts do not suck up lake water, rather the waterspout is made up of condensing water vapor.

2. Global warming has been occurring since the last ice age. It seems to be occurring more quickly since the industrial revolution. Is this rate increase due primarily to increased CO2 levels? Are there any other significant causes?

There are numerous cycles of warming and cooling that have taken place on this planet. As you mentioned, the ice age is an example of a cycle between glacial (cold) and inter-glacial (warm) periods that stretch back millions of years. We are currently experiencing an inter-glacial period. More recently, historians refer to the ‘Medieval Climate Optimum’ (warmer) where we learned of the Vikings’ travel to Greenland and the ‘Little Ice Age’ (cooler) that followed. While not a true ice age, the cooling temperatures of the Little Ice Age had a devastating effect on crops. Washington Crossing the Delaware is a painting that shows far more ice on the river than possible today. Since the Industrial Revolution, global temperatures have been increasing, and this increase has been attributed to greenhouse gases, including CO2. While there are some natural explanations for increasing temperatures (e.g. increase in solar output -referred to as natural forcing), they cannot account for the level and pace of warming we are experiencing today.

3. We know that CO2 is a greenhouse gas. Is water vapor a greenhouse gas as well?

Yes, water vapor is a greenhouse gas. Water, along with the other greenhouse gases, in a process known as the ‘Greenhouse Effect,’ keeps our planet at a livable temperature (average surface temperature of about 60oF). Without the greenhouse gases and the Greenhouse Effect, the average global temperature would be at about 0oF.

Download The PDF of All 15 Questions and Answers